Updated: Mar 18
Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs) are a simple, powerful way for sales, marketing, and design & development teams to better understand, engage and impact their customers.
To be effective, ICPs should:
Represent key segments of your customer base
Be developed from a solid combination of research, direct observations and experiences, and individual expertise
Be organized around a framework that is directly related to your produce or service, like use cases, pain points, journey maps, buying triggers, life stages, etc.
Include needs, drives, motivations, likely behaviors and other characteristic that make them easy to understand
From a practical perspective, ICPs help you set priorities, allocate resources, uncover gaps and highlight new opportunities, but more important than that is the way they get everyone on the same page, moving in the same direction, trying to reach the same destination.
Even though different teams use different tools and tactics, ICPs help to ensure that all those individual efforts are complimentary, not competing.
How To Create Ideal Customer Profiles From Pain Points
Pain points are persistent or recurring problems that inconvenience or annoy prospective customers. The “solution” to these problems is your product or service.
There are four types of pain points:
Pain points often fall into more than one category — i.e. physical pain can also be emotional pain, emotional pain can also be spiritual pain, and so on.
The key to using pain points as a framework for ICPs is being able to associate each pain point with a specific set of demographic and/or psychographic characteristics that represent an individual group of customers.
Even then, the goal is not to represent every single one of your customers in complete detail, but to create a composite that reflects the "ideal" customer.
This is why balance is so important — define your pain points too broadly and you end up with seemingly distinct groups of customers who are actually all the same; define your pain points too narrowly and you end up with too many customers who don’t really fit into any group.
Associating pain points with specific qualities and characteristics can be a bit of challenge — part art, part science — but if you’ve done your research and you get into the “Goldilocks zone” with your pain point descriptions, it shouldn’t be a problem.
The first step is use your pain points to sort and filter your customer into individual groups. Which customers are affected by which pain points? Which aren’t? Can customers be affected by more than one pain point? Which pain point is the most common? Which is the least common? Which one has the biggest impact on conversions? Which has the least?
If you run into problems sorting and filtering, you may have to go back and revise your pain points, or combine pain points with a secondary framework, like use cases, life stages, journey maps, etc.
Once you’ve grouped your customers by pain point, the next step is to look for patterns within each group. What qualities and characteristics do these customers have in common? Is there anything that makes them unique or different from customers in other group?
The qualities and characteristics you want to look for can range from simple demographics to complex psychographics, but most people try to identify a few of following:
where your customers live
any specific mindsets they might have
how they see themselves (personality traits like "friendly," "adventurous," "driven," etc.)
drives and motivations
Linking pain points to specific characteristics often means generalizing, making assumptions, taking educated guesses, and/or ignoring minor inconsistencies.
(It’s also worth noting that some characteristics can be more or less relevant for B2B vs. B2C vs. DTC, which may impact which ones you ultimately want to focus on.)
Once you’ve got a list of descriptive characteristics that align with each of your pain points, you will probably need to condense and consolidate them. This is usually pretty straightforward: you keep what’s most unique, meaningful and/or representative, and get rid of what’s not.
(If you end up with more than one unique set of descriptors for any given group, you may want to create multiple personas.)
The last step is to package everything up so you can present it to your clients and/or team in a way that makes your ICPs accessible, relatable and actionable.
How much or how little effort you put into packaging depends on your resources, but at the very least you’ll want to give each ICP a name or title that relates back to the appropriate pain point, write up a brief personality summary or bio, and “put a face on it” by adding an image or illustration.
If you use an online ICP/buyer persona builder or want to do the work yourself, you can make your ICPs even more impactful by including additional details like brands, lifestyle choices, hobbies, interests, related traits and tendencies, social media habits, engagement needs, narrative preference, core needs and wants, etc.
Even though the process of creating ICPs takes time, what you end up with is a “single source of truth” you can share with everyone — marketing, sales, design, development, customer success, etc. — who needs to understand who you’re trying to engage and how best to engage them.
Our online persona: